Listen Up: Wednesday, September 1, 2004
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A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Sam Roberts

We Were Born In A Flame (Lost Highway)

By Justin Press

Proof that good things from the Great White North don’t end with Rush and old-time hockey, Sam Roberts’ We Were Born In A Flame is a stellar recording bursting at the seams with ambition and a love for jangling guitars. Having written off the past 20 years of popular music as inspiration, Canadian Roberts has recaptured the sting of power-pop heroes like The Plimsouls and The Knack, while giving the tracks just enough country-rock flare to keep a grin on the likes of Jeff Tweedy.

Songs like “Hard Road” and “Brother Down” are custom-made hand-clappers that walk the fine line between Triple-A radio-friendly and back alley despair, while “Where Have All the Good People Gone?” is big-time promise on a garage-band budget, as it employs acoustic and electric guitars, keys, and a marching band’s worth of toms, all held together by a chorus chanting “come on, come on, people, come on.” The Youngbloods would’ve been damn proud.

We Were Born — built on the feel-good nature of hippiedom harnessed by a hard-working, blue-collar attitude — reaches the highs but gets dirty doing it. “The Milky Way is beautiful,” sings Roberts on “Every Part of Me,” “but it sure has gotten sour.” The bolo ties and paisley button-ups explode all over “Higher Learning,” with its new-mod beat and the familiar strains of a Rickenbacker six-string coaxing the memory banks. (Where were you when The Bangles first broke?) The English punk-blues of “On The Run” comes roaring through in three minutes’ worth of downstrokes and snare drum carnage, creating the soundtrack to pogo dancing, beer drinking, and fist pumping. From the dust of such filth and fury follows the sleepy shuffle of “No Sleep,” a three-minute gem that captures the dizzying effect of a Rhodes organ and clean guitar soloing. And Let It Be must be missing a track, because if Lennon/McCartney didn’t write “This Wreck of a Life,” then Roberts must be spending quality time with the Ouija board. The lofty heights of the album just about eclipse themselves with the snap, crackle, and pop of the twin finale of “When Everything’s Alright” and “This How I Live.” Be careful your old man doesn’t mistake this for one of his old Kinks 45s and send you off to bed without dessert.

Sam Roberts might seem like a solo effort, but it’s a group thing all the way. The bold songwriting is topped only by the competent musicianship; playing songs this simple isn’t that easy. We Were Born In A Flame has in no way reinvented the wheel — hell, it hasn’t even changed the tire — but it’s still a smooth ride.


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